Things were going great for the Los Angeles Rams until they weren’t as the Rams let go of a 17 point lead to end up losing against the San Francisco 49ers 27-24. It’s a tough pill to swallow as the end of the regular season but to make it easier, Week 18 did come with a NFC West division title for the Rams as the Arizona Cardinals also lost in the regular season finale week.
As for the Rams vs 49ers, here are the breakdowns by position and the resulting letter grade.
Matthew Stafford started the game with two touchdowns to Tyler Higbee to give the Rams a 17 point lead. The first touchdown was a well executed play action pass and the second was an excellent throw to the tight end on wheel route in the end zone. In the fourth quarter with the game tied, Stafford led a 77 yard drive that ended with a perfect pass to Cooper Kupp for a touchdown. On the downside, Stafford threw two interceptions, both on deep pass attempts with the second coming in overtime to end the game.
The much anticipated return of Cam Akers was uneventful. Sony Michel was the starter and took most of the snaps and carries but none of the backs were able to produce much. Michel ended with 43 yards on 21 carries and Akers had three yards on five carries. Together the backs also accounted for four catches for 16 yards.
Kupp had seven catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Odell Beckham Jr and Van Jefferson both had two catches each for a combined 49 yards but no touchdowns for either. Stafford and McVay were successful keeping things moving going through their best player in Kupp. OBJ had a critical third down catch in the first quarter and Van Jefferson had a 24 yard third down catch in the fourth quarter. One of the rare but good run plays of the day had Kupp up the middle as a lead blocker and the other was an 18 yard jet sweep with Kupp as the runner.
Tyler Higbee was the star of the first half scoring two touchdowns to give the Rams a 17 point lead. To get open on his first touchdown from close range, he sold the run on a play action by showing block and then sprang open and sealed the catch. The second touchdown came from a bit longer range and was under tighter coverage. Higbee ran a wheel route and high pointed a ball over the defender for the score. The tight end had six catches for 55 yards and the two touchdowns.
This group got outmatched and it was one of the main differences in the game. Stafford was sacked five times and was otherwise under pressure most of the game. While the play calling kept the run game in the mix, the Rams were unable to generate any push and produce yardage. The Rams had 64 yards rushing on 27 attempts.
In a critical third quarter drive the 49ers drove 50 yards down the field while calling 10 consecutive run plays. The defensive front got beat off the ball and could not stop the charge. Ashawn Robinson did get a sack but otherwise, it was the defenses inability to stop the rushing attack that was a major factor in the outcome.
The linebackers grade also suffers from the display of run dominance by the 49ers. Troy Reeder and Travin Howard on the inside got pushed around and could not fill the gaps to stop the gashing. The 49ers ran for a total 135 yards and on touchdown. On the upside, Troy Reeder and Von Miller both got a sack on the quarterback.
Jalen Ramsey was again the bright spot in the secondary as he made tough physical tackles all game and came up with one of the highlight plays with an interception that he tipped to himself in the red zone. On the downside, the rest of the cornerbacks, David Long jr. and Donte Deayon could not contribute enough pass break ups or make tackles reliably. The 49ers passed for 340 yards and two touchdowns. The biggest breakdown for the secondary came on the final drive of the fourth quarter when the 49ers were down by seven with 81 seconds left to play and called five pass plays to drive down the field and throw in the tying score.
Taylor Rapp had the first turnover in the game with a deep ball interception. Jordan Fuller got knocked out of the game with an injury and Terrell Burgess came in to replace him. Burgess and Nick Scott struggled to make tackles against Deebo Samuel and Juan Jennings.
Brandon Powell ran one of this two punt returns back 31 yards. Matt Gay was one for one on field goals and made all three extra point attempts.
It was a tale of two halves for Sean McVay as he won the first half 17-3 but went on to lose his first game of his career when leading at the half. The play calling suited the first half when McVay came out calling run plays on almost every first and second down of the first half and converting on third downs with passes. While the run plays weren’t gaining much yardage, it did enough to keep the defense honest and opened up the pass game. McVay called it right to get the tight end involved early and called a great play action pass after a series for run calls for the first touchdown. However it was in the second half when the run game still wasn’t pushing and the Rams missed on too many critical passes for three and outs. What seemed to be missing was diversity or creativity with both the run designs and the ability to get the ball out quickly to avoid the pressure. For example, the 49ers called a double fake screen and hit the tight end over the middle for a critical conversion. Then the 49ers also called a receiver pass that went for a touchdown. Those are the types of plays that we didn’t see from McVay and company. Even the simple jet sweep that was called to Kupp and went for 18 yards seems exotic in this current offense when it was at one time the main stay. On defense, again look no further than the third quarter drive of 50 yards with ten consecutive run plays by the 49ers as an example of Raheem Morris’ struggle to find an answer to a one dimensional offense.